What Do You Mean When You Say Hybrid Storage?

Exciting news! I have an idea for a startup and have secured a meeting with a leading venture capital firm. I want funding to productize a hybrid storage array.

It uses flash for Tier 0, HDDs for Tier 1 and “cheap and deep” storage for Tier 2. It is software that runs in virtual machines on commodity servers. It supports thin provisioning, snapshots, dynamic load balancing, auto-tiering and multi-tenancy. I have a proof-of-concept up and running, and have been granted a patent on the underlying technology.

Please, oh please, give me money – no luck! They didn’t understand the value of hybrid storage. This was my startup in 1995, and I wonder sometimes if much has changed.

Today, everyone thinks hybrid means flash and disk – why is that?

Hybrid means a blending of technologies, because customers have varying workloads and today’s workload may be different tomorrow.

Today, disk still holds most of the data. I know what you’re probably thinking, but I’m not a zealot for storing all your data on disk. I just mean that disk drives have their place, even if you believe they’re in slow decline, which they aren’t.

Conversely, I’m excited by the prospect of cost-effective next-generation non-volatile memory (NVM) technologies based on MRAM, ReRAM, PCRAM – whatever allows this to enter the mainstream.

To me, all-flash arrays are a conundrum.

It’s like taking my favorite food and eating it every day. Too much of a good thing.

Porsche 996 Turbo Speed Yellow

I was fortunate to own a 2002 Porsche 911 Turbo for a while, a very nice sports car.

With 400 horsepower, a 200 mile-per-hour top speed, all-wheel drive and in a nice, subtle yellow, it was everything you could want in a car.

Well, maybe not so subtle… it was my all-flash array: fast, sleek, expensive. And just look at it!

I remember driving 90 miles from home to a conference, thoroughly enjoying the drive to my hotel, which was just a few miles from the conference center. I woke up the next morning to snow and ice.

Did I mention the conference was in Denver, in January? I thought, “What the heck, it has all-wheel drive, no problem – this thing can handle any job I throw at it.”

As it turns out, 400 horsepower doesn’t really care about all-wheel drive or what kind of tires you have – on ice it can spin all of them at once, going exactly zero miles-per-hour.

Ford F250 Super Duty

My all-flash array was not meant for the workload that day – it was simply too fast, too powerful, too expensive.

I should have taken my big old Ford F250 – my HDD in this analogy – slow and cumbersome as it was, but the perfect tool for the job that morning.

In my garage, I’m tinkering with “non-volatile memory”, a Factory Five GTM Supercar that I’m building for my next ride. It’s not quite ready for the road, but you can bet I won’t be driving it to Denver in January. I have my truck for that.

I like the concept of hybrid storage because it not only acknowledges that one size does not fit all, but also that new technologies will emerge and erode legacy technologies. Circle-of-life sort of stuff. This is what flash memory is doing to HDDs and what non-flash NVM will do to SSDs.

What customers need is a storage architecture that was built to be hybrid.

With multiple technologies in whatever ratios make sense for the customer. Just as important, because customer needs change over time, is a system that allows the ratios to be changed and new technology to be incorporated. Allow the data associated with a given set of applications to move around within the diversity of resources in the hybrid system.

Selling all-flash poses two fundamental problems:

    1. The customer will have to look elsewhere for solutions when flash is too expensive or too slow.

    2. Flash will get replaced by something else – it will become the legacy technology within the product lifecycle of today’s all-flash arrays!

I should warn you that when NVM arrives in the not-too-distant future, the all-flash zealots will be promoting hybrid like crazy. They will need to keep their flash-based systems delivering revenue while building a business around the new, non-flash NVM technology. They will spin it, but they will be promoting hybrid. In fact, they may already be doing it, so listen carefully.

Datera was built for hybrid – fast when fast is the right thing and cost effective when that’s the right thing.

More important, hybrid means a lot more than just having different types of media. It’s about helping the customer get the right storage at the right time. It’s about helping the customer when their needs change. It helps the customer deploy quickly using what they have, because they know that when they add new types of storage or scale the types of storage they have, or their needs change, they can adjust the policies and the Datera system will automatically adapt.

It’s not about the storage being hybrid, it’s about the customer.

Customers have different needs at different times, and all-flash or “all-anything” means you will only help for one thing at one time.

If you don’t like eating the same food every day, you live somewhere with harsh weather, or you need flexibility in managing your data, maybe you want a little variety. If one size doesn’t fit all, Datera is worth a look, an architecture built for hybrid – storage and customers – from the very beginning.